The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) turned 36 years old just barely, and last night I was introducing DC to some of the old NES games you can play on the Switch if you’re signed up with their online service. She’s a huge Zelda fan, so we played the original for a while, and then we shifted over to some fast and furious Dr. Mario action, and then a bit of Super Marios Bros. 3. A few thoughts:
First, it’s amazing how difficult the games are. She’s an accomplished gamer, having beaten Breath of the Wild on her own, but she wouldn’t make it past a few seconds on most of the Mario levels, and Zelda was a real struggle as well. Tomas tried to show her how it was done on Mario 3, but he also promptly died. The control schemes are much more precise than a lot of the newer games, allowing so much less room for error, it feels. Add to that the very limited number of lives, and you have to have a lot of patience for the game to be able to keep making progress. (I’m happy to report that, while I was a bit rusty at first, I was still able to make my way through the first world of Mario 3 with little difficulty (remembering where the warp whistle was, naturally), and I found the first dungeon in Zelda without making one wrong turn. It’s so nice that my brain cells are holding on to vital information like that.)
Second, it made me think back on my first experiences with the NES. My literal first computer games that I played were on an old Heathkit my dad owned. (Looking back at the specs, it appears that puppy cost around $2,000 back then, which is $4,761 in today’s dollars!) I played a ton of Space Invaders, DND, Zork, and ELIZA. Graphics were limited, often text based, and the screen was black and green. So when we got an Atari 2600, that was pretty incredible. Color! Pictures! I played a ton of Pitfall, Pac Man, Asteroids, Missile Command, Yar’s Revenge, Pole Position, and Centipede. Ironically, looking back at it, I don’t think I played any of them particularly well. I don’t remember getting very far in any of them. I’d know the first few levels quite well, but I’d die. A lot. The thing was, I just didn’t care.
All along, however, the system I wanted most was the NES. Those cool 8-bit graphics were so much better than anything the Atari could put out. I don’t think players growing up with current consoles today realize just what sort of leaps new systems made back then. Going from the Heathkit to the Atari to the NES to the SuperNES to the N64 . . . these were massive improvements. Playstation’s going to come out with a PS5. How different will it really be than a PS4? VR adds things to the mix, but other than that . . . it’s not the same.
But then again, gaming was different back then. Like I said, you were okay with dying all the time. That’s why there were point totals: so you could see you were making progress. We’d play against each other to see who had the higher score. These days, I think games are much more fun, but that makes sense. They’ve had so much time to evolve and learn how to do fun right. That said, I still find the old games fun. The aesthetic, the sound, the gameplay. It’s a blast to go back and remember what it all used to be like.
What was your favorite game from back then? What system did you start out on?
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